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Coping with Dishonesty in Romantic Relationships

» Mental Health Library » Treatment Approaches » Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy » Featured Article

By: Walter J. Matweychuk, Ph.D.

Walter J. Matweychuk, Ph.D.

Sadly, humans are capable of deceit and dishonesty in all human relationships. However, when dishonesty occurs in romance, it is especially painful. You do not live in a utopian world with saintly beings; sadly, the fallible humans you love sometimes will act dishonestly. Sometimes, they believe it is too painful for them to hurt you with the truth, take the easy way out, and tell you what you want to hear. Other times, they act selfishly and deceive you without regard for your rights. Regardless of their motives, rather than become bitter, give up on love, or put yourself down, it is best to strive to have a healthy reaction to a disappointing act of dishonesty and learn from it. With a healthy negative emotion, you can decide what is in your long-term best interest to do. Doing what is in your best interest rather than reacting to their dishonesty with impulsive, self-defeating reactions is essential.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) helps people cope with dishonesty and deceit in romantic relationships. REBT teaches that although it may be difficult, it is self-helping to experience a healthy negative emotion when you face deception in a romantic relationship. Healthy negative emotions acknowledge mistreatment in a romantic relationship. According to the theory of REBT, the healthy feelings of disappointment, sorrow, or sadness are far better than the corresponding unhealthy hurt and anger. It does not matter what you call or label your healthy and unhealthy emotional pairs; what matters is that you understand why the healthy emotion is healthy and in your best interest to have in the face of deceit and how it is qualitatively different than the corresponding unhealthy emotion. Unhealthy negative feelings are self-defeating. They lead to behavior undermining your long-term goals and values, whereas healthy negative feelings are self-helping because they help you achieve your long-term goals and values. Instead of experiencing hurt when deceived, one could elect to call the unhealthy feeling unhealthy sorrow. The unhealthy feeling will likely lead to self-defeating judgment and behavior. Furthermore, once under the influence of unhealthy negative emotions, the individual is likely to experience subsequent biased thinking, making acting self-helping more unlikely.

It is beyond the scope of this piece to discuss what is prudent for a person to do when faced with dishonesty in a romantic relationship. Sometimes, it is in your best interest to give the person another chance and allow them to demonstrate they are capable of future trust. In other instances, it may be highly imprudent to do this. This article emphasizes the healthy attitudes that will enable you to process the act of dishonesty and make a prudent decision. Every decision carries the risk of being incorrect, which is why healthy negative emotions are essential. Healthy negative emotions increase the probability but do not guarantee that you will make a prudent decision about future involvement in the relationship.

Please note that I will write from the perspective of a man who acts dishonestly with a woman. What I write applies whether or not it is a woman who has been dishonest with a man or the deception occurs between two people of the same sex. Unfortunately, dishonesty happens in romance, and the focus of this piece is how to react to it healthily, regardless of the sex of each person. 

Below is a selection of possible unhealthy, rigid, and extreme attitudes a person may have when facing dishonesty in romance. When the truth comes to light, these self-defeating attitudes will likely lead to unhealthy negative feelings and behaviors. Examine how they differ from healthy, flexible, and non-extreme attitudes, resulting in healthy negative emotions and behaviors. Please bear in mind that although the self-helping way of thinking may be difficult to achieve, it does not mean it would not be worth striving to adopt. REBT is a valuable system of ideas because humans will not naturally think in flexible and healthy ways when adversity strikes. 

Irrational Self-harming Attitude

Because I asked for honesty from the outset of the relationship and delivered on my promise of honesty, he, too, absolutely should have been honest with me. It is terrible that he treated me this way. He is a jerk.

Healthy, Self-helping Alternative Attitude

Even though I asked for honesty and delivered on my promise of honesty, it does not mean I have to receive what I asked for from this man. The universe does not compel humans to fulfill their promises, and as imperfect humans, people will say one thing but do another. His actions sadden me, and I need to carefully consider if this is likely to be a pattern that repeats itself or give this man another chance. There is never a guarantee that such dishonesty won't happen again, nor is there a guarantee that if I move on, I will not face deceit in a future relationship. Whether I move on or not, deception remains a possibility as long as I deal with fallible humans. Absolute trust in a human is idealistic and likely not possible. It is for this reason it is healthy for me to learn how to have a constructive response to acts of dishonesty.

Anti-awfulizing Self-helping Attitude

I acknowledge that it is very bad that he was dishonest with me, but his behavior is not awful. It is not awful because he could do worse things to me than act deceptively. I also will likely experience unhealthy feelings that lead to poor judgment if I awfulize. I will acknowledge his behavior as wrong, disappointing, and unexpected but not awful, terrible, or the end of the world. I can withstand coping with it, and good can come from bad. I am wiser about it and stronger in recovering from it. Good can come from bad if I push myself to recover from it by adopting a healthy attitude to what has occurred.

Unconditional Other-Acceptance and Judgement of His Behavior

This man's "jerky" behavior does not make him a jerk. It proves he is a deeply flawed human whom I might never trust. I can show him unconditional acceptance but not stand for his dishonest behavior. I will stop seeing him if I conclude it is likely to occur again and if it is in my long-term best interest to do so. I have a better chance of doing what is in my long-term best interest if I see him as a fallible, screwed-up human to whom I may or may not choose to continue to relate romantically. First, let me recover from the act of dishonesty, and then I can decide what to do over the long run regarding relating to him.

Irrational Self-harming Attitude Producing Self-Devaluation

I am a fool for trusting this guy. I absolutely should have seen it coming. There is something wrong with me. I (absolutely) should give up looking for romantic relationships because they all will end this way.

Self-helping Attitude Producing Unconditional Self-Acceptance

I am not a fool for trusting this guy, even though it now seems foolish to overlook some signs that now appear to be red flags that could have motivated me to leave the relationship before he had a chance to hurt me. Trusting him proves I, too, am a fallible human who, under the influence of romantic love, was blinded by signs I could have seen early on. I cannot prove myself a fool; I can only define myself as a fool. Defining myself a fool will never help me. Instead of spending time hurting myself by defining and downing myself, it would be better to look for something I could learn to help me make better romantic judgments in the future. Regardless of what this experience teaches me, I need to remember I can recover from being poorly treated and go on to love again. With this healthy attitude, I will see that it is not necessarily true all men will be dishonest with me. It never helps me to overgeneralize. Generalizing that many men will deceive but not all will serve to enable me to look for the type of man I hope to find.

Final Thoughts

Romantic relationships are challenging. Nearly everyone has a strong desire for a romantic relationship and the emotional fulfillment and sexual gratification that goes with it. Humans are fallible, give in to their impulses, and often say one thing and do another. The solution is not hopelessness and to give up on romantic relationships. The answer is to have a healthy reaction to acts of dishonesty. Then, you can keep trying to get what you are looking for and see that love occurs on its timetable, not yours. REBT can help you recover from romantic dishonesty. It brings out the best in you so that you keep doing what you can to help yourself find the love you are looking for and to have some happiness in life until that fine day comes your way. 

About the Author...

Dr. Matweychuk is a practicing psychologist in Manhattan. He practices a practical, problem-focused approach to therapy. He works with adults and focuses on self-defeating attitudes, feelings, and behaviors. He is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania Department of Psychiatry and is an adjunct professor of Applied Psychology at New York University. He has authored three books on Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and does weekly demonstrations of his approach every Saturday at 9 AM on Zoom. To attend his Zoom demonstrations, visit his website and register for his Intermittent Reinforcement emails to receive the Zoom link.

Click here to contact or learn more about Dr. Walter J. Matweychuk

Last Update: 3/12/2024

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